Obasanjo: The Lord Of The Jungle

by Banjo Odutola

October is a month, which heralds a change in the weather at this side of the pond. It is a month, when the autumn season brings in its sting, the cold chill in its biting wind. It is a month that heralds a change from the heat of the summer. For Nigerians, the change for which the month is known took on a new meaning. This month, our president confirmed his status of being a Cowboy president and the Lord of the jungle.

There is nothing wrong in being a Cowboy leader when there are no laws or rules governing the territory presided. Neither is it wrong for a president to conduct himself as if there were no rules governing the nation he presides. The basic differences between our country and the Jungle are the entrenchment of Laws and our Constitution. Right now, one man that is charged to uphold both is: Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of this nation. He is required to ensure his acts are not divergent to the provisions thereof, which make ours a decent society. By extension, his actions must never take resort to blackmail, where there are provisions in our laws to safeguard the nation. When the president lays precedents whimsically, by using national broadcasts to instead of negotiations with the Labour Congress – the nation becomes comparable to a jungle.

The last national broadcast is a misuse of power; an abandonment of due process of the practice of industrial relations and the law; blackmail of the worst kind and an ill-advised venture. It was utilitarian but will soon prove detrimental. It was elegant but not luxurious. It was the sowing of the wind for a harvest of whirlwind. Mark this: The immediate effect of the broadcast, which in no way was an appeal but a Ukase of sorts from a man that the constitution does not so empower.

By taking the battle to the door of the enemy this time – Mr. Obasanjo failed in damaging the Congress. If the purpose of the broadcast was for the citizen to sympathise with the position of the government, the limitation of such sympathy is the reality in the pocket of the people, who have to pay more for their goods and superfluities. Mr. Obasanjo made clear that he was not an umpire in arbitration between the representatives of his government and the Labour Congress. Hence, the broadcast was not the usual concomitant appeal for reasoning between two parties, who are guardians of the peoples’ interests. Mr. Obasanjo portrayed himself as the only guardian of our collective interest. This is an area in which this lord of the Jungle still needs a lot of education. He cannot be the only guardian of our collective interest. That broadcast would only have served to embolden workers and the Labour Congress. It succeeded in frightening the Congress back to its hole like a fox chased by a hunter’s dog. Unwittingly and perhaps irresponsibly, the Congress has been handed another life because “he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day“. The Congress by no stretch of the imagination should be regarded as defeated and neither has Mr. Obasanjo’s ploy worked. What seems like his present victory now serves to hinder his so called deregulation liberalisation policies.

Julian Barnes, the English Novelist, once queried: “Does history repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? No, that’s too grand, too considered a process. History just burps and we taste again that raw-onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago. (A History of the World in 10½ Chapters). As it is not only in Nigeria that Labour Congresses or Trade Unions have challenged governments about their positions in matters of petrol price increases or energy policies, could Mr. Obasanjo not have learnt how other governments dealt with the same issue? So, why present the people with the “raw-onion sandwich” approach, which is what his last broadcast embodies?

This government should have sought for advisers of Mrs Margaret Thatcher, who did not use national broadcasts to discredit the Union of National Mineworkers in Britain in the early 1980s; legislations were in place and used effectively. Why has Mr. Obasanjo presented himself as a Lord of the Jungle, for whom the legislations of the land are ineffective for his purpose? But, our country is not a jungle – it is our president that prefers such standards to solve national problems.

It is arguable that the forming of a parallel miners’ trade union was the point at which the British Government was set to win its battle against “King” Arthur Scargill, then president of the Union of Mine Workers and his Union Members. In a country such as ours and with this government, which is fraudulent at its heart, it should do the same to challenge Comrade Oshimohole, another Lord in the same jungle.

It should be realised quickly enough that weakening the Nigerian Labour Congress would be difficult in the present day Nigerian Economy and democratic dispensation. Mrs Thatcher delivered a robust economy; destroyed the shackles that weighed the economic success of Britain; and through her policies, new business entrepreneurs mushroomed and flourished. Her policies made homeowners of tenants of Local Authorities. Even Sid, the name of the common working class man in the British Telecommunication advert, for the first time became a proud shareholder in deregulated companies.

The delivery of a buoyant economy and empowering of the citizen made it easier for the Thatcher government to succeed in destroying the powers of the trade unions in the United Kingdom. There is no gainsaying that if Mr. Obasanjo were to attempt weakening the Labour Congress in an economy that impoverishes rather than prospering its citizens, he would find himself to blame. The president, who was once a favourite of the people, is now witnessing the systematic challenge to his person and gradually to his authority. In plain language, this president’s moral standing is beginning to be dented. And, to consider that this is the same man, who came from prison to praise and from praise to presidency, one wonders what is going awry. Whatever happened on the route from his presidency to where his lacklustre and glaring failure lands him may be of little concern right now. It is what happens to this nation in the interim that ought to be of concern.

If this government makes an error to deal the Congress with a comeuppance, which it may believe it deserves, it must be ready to display to the working population that it is a government of prosperity – if it fails to achieve such a minimum requirement, the claims in that broadcast become unbelievable. Mr. Obasanjo claims: “The tens of Billions of Naira currently being lost in money that could have been used to increase capital spending in the universities, fund agriculture, repair and rehabilitate our roads, invest in education and health, improve security with extra police for security of lives and property …“. However, he forgot to add that such is the same money that could have been embezzled by his officials, who rate badly for corruption. There is little point in blackmailing the Labour Congress in this way. Is this not the same Mr. Obasanjo who volunteered that three hundred Billion Naira has been spent on road rehabilitation in the last four years; and yet he sees no value in the potholes and the state of Federal Roads. So, what values have we derived from the billions of Naira contracts already awarded and for which mobilisation fees were paid and no work seem to have been done? Why remove subsidies for further lucre?

What was and remains at stake for this president was and still is not only the price of a litre of petrol nor the strike in itself: it is the dexterousness of the Congress in coinciding its strikes on days that his foreign visitors are in town. Remember the last time the Labour Congress rattled him? The American President was coming to town; and now he has “august visitors” and “brothers and sisters from the rest of Africa” in his domain – why humiliate the Great Obasanjo of Africa in the presence of these people? As an admission, he reckons that his humiliation is the humiliation of our nation.

Mr. Obasanjo cannot expect to be taken seriously with such a claim. But he was because the strike soon collapsed before it took off. He could well have been grandstanding; and it worked.

As a well travelled African, he knows that challenges to governments are not welcomed in many African nations. Is it in Zimbabwe, Libya, Benin Republic, Liberia or Congo, etc that ordinary citizens will challenge their governments? Could the strike not have demonstrated to our so called “brothers and sisters from “the rest of Africa” that Nigerians are not wimpish to call for the excursionist president to learn a few home-truths? Could Mr. Obasanjo’s representatives without his personal involvement not have dialogued constructively with the Congress? Could the strike not have galvanised African athletes to export from us to their countries, a proactive flair to challenge their governments?

This government’s sculpture of the Labour Congress as irresponsible, is an attempt in vulgarity and an artistry of the how cowboys rule their territories. When the people fail to experience prosperity from its policies, it is no rocket science to understand the Labour Congress would be relied upon to protect the meagre income in the hands of the workers. This is one of the reasons for the Labour Congress finding sympathisers outside of its membership. When Mr. Obasanjo decides to make his next broadcast on Labour disputes, is it not time to realise a simple truism that workers will never be on his side until his policies deliver prosperity for all?

The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.

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